There is one type of physical media that still is objectively better

streaming services has its flaws and of of its flaws is a deal breaker for me.
There is one type of physical media that still is objectively better
Photo by JC Gellidon / Unsplash

Ages ago, the era now known as Pre-COVID, in a moment of frustration and rage, I disposed my entire DVD (also includes some blu ray discs) collection. My wife casually remarked that my collection is gathering dust and she cannot recall the last time I even watched a single movie from my collection. She was not incorrect. At the time, I naively thought, streaming is the future. Which it still may be, but, we should always remember that future is far away and the era that lasts the longest is the present (wow, thats very wise of me lol)

At the time, there were no regrets. Lately, I am terribly regretting my actions. I had spent years (if not decades) building my collection.

The streaming landscape has significantly changed. Most relevant being that instead of just a few players in the game, now there are so many and each one of them have their exclusives that appeal to me. To make it worse, the catalog of movies provided by streaming services keeps changing and annoyingly, like clockwork, they all have been increasing their subscription prices. It’s like I am an infinity pool for them to make a withdrawal whenever they desire. However, all this isn't a deal breaker. It is just the way the current world works.

The issue I have with streaming movies is the quality of the stream. Even at 4K, the quality of the stream is no way near the quality one would enjoy when consumed via a blu ray. For example, a 4K stream from Netflix maxes out at 16 Mbps. The bitrate of 4K bluray ranges from 72Mbps to 144Mbps. The variance is significant. Obviously Netflix (as is the case with any other streaming providers) compresses the movie to ensure consumers can stream in 4K quality over the internet. In addition, depending on the your internet connection, the quality of the movie is adjusted. Many streaming services (except for Amazon Prime) do not even display the current resolution of the movie being streamed. One has to dig deeper to confirm that the stream is indeed in 4K.

The only exemption is Sony’s Bravia Core which streams moves in lossless UHD quality. Sadly, it’s only available in selected Sony TVs and the collection is laughably limited.

What I want?

I want movies to stream in lossless UHD quality. Perhaps, I am asking too much but that was the standard before streaming took over. It’s ironic that it has been only recently that the major music streaming providers provide streaming in lossless quality (exception of Spotify and Youtube Music). Perhaps, it will take another 5 to 10 years for movies to stream in lossless quality. At that point, my newly created collection may be redundant.

Even in 2024, a 4K Bluray or even a 1080p Bluray is objectively better in quality than any streaming service. The same is the case if you buy movies from Apple iTunes etc. The physical disc has been and is still the best way to consume movies at home.

It’s not all about the video. The audio streams attached to these movies are also significantly compressed when streaming. Obviously, if you do not have surround sound system, it doesn’t matter but for people like me who spend time and energy to have the best surround sound experience (that I can afford), these details matter.

Other benefits of physical media:

  • works offline
  • privacy focused: nobody knows what I have watched and how many times. No algorithms here
  • It is actually mine as opposed to purchased digital movies where its more like a lease instead of outright purchase.
  • intentional and focused movie experience because it requires the physical act of inserting a disc in a bluray player instead of mindlessly scrolling through Netflix’s catalog.
  • Enjoying looking at the special features and other goodies that comes when purchasing a bluray.
  • It’s nice to hold the bluray in your hand. Provides a sense of ownership.

Christopher Nolan (one of my favourite movie makers) said at a recent “Oppenheimer” screening that:

it’s important to own the film on Blu-ray so that “no evil streaming service can come steal it from you.”

Christopher Nolan has since clarified that he only jokingly said that but provided the following clarification to the washing Post:

“There is a danger, these days, that if things only exist in the streaming version they do get taken down, they come and go,”

Nolan previously said that:

he has spent months preparing “Oppenheimer” for home release so that the Blu-ray version of the film sounds and looks as pristine as the film’s theatrical release.

Source for the above

I cannot sit by waiting for these streaming giants to get their act together. I do not want to deprive myself of enjoying my favourite movies at home in the best possible quality.

What will I do?

There is obviously only one option and that is to start building my collection.

However, this time around, my motivations behind building a collection are different. Previously, I bought the physical media because that was the only way to consume media. Today, I am rebuilding my collection because it is still the best means of consuming my favourite movies in its best quality.

From my perspective, it makes sense to only have physical versions of movies that require the best quality, this includes action and/or visually pleasing movies. It doesn’t make sense for me to buy romantic comedies (I only watch those when forced upon me by my wife) in blu ray. Streaming services are sufficient for this use case.

I also am limited by the amount of money I have and despite this blog post perhaps indicating otherwise, buying blu ray definitely falls under a want rather than a need.

After moving some funds through my various Swiss bank accounts, I allocated myself AUD100 to buy some physical media. Thankfully, JB HiFi (Australian retail) was having a sale.

I bought the following 4K blu-rays for AUD121 (includes express shipping):

  • Casino Royal
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Skyfall
  • Spectre
  • No Time to Die
  • Dark Knight
  • Dark Knight Rises

Clearly, I am huge James Bond and Batman Fan (only the Nolan movies).

7 movies for $120… thats a pretty good deal and all are great movies.

Note: the quality of the casing that comes with the blu-ray disc has deteriorated. It feels plasticy and I already cranked one of the case. The disc however works as advertised so I cannot complain. Previously, when I bought the DVD or Bluray, the purchase would also came with codes to redeem a digital version of the movie online. Most of my collection that I previously disposed is still available online for me to stream. Sadly, none of the 7 movies I purchased came with digital versions. This is not a deal breaker because obviously I bought the movies because I wanted to superior quality that the digital version lacks. Perhaps, this is only the case in Australia and in USA, bluray still come with digital versions.

Either way, in 2024, I now have a small curated collection of movies in physical media. This statement alone amuses me because it highlights how my thoughts have changed.

Readers, if you have a physical collection, please feel free to recommend what I should buy next. Probably in a few months time… because I have exhausted my current allocated budget 😞

This blogpost was written in Notion on my 2018 iPad Pro in Cairns, QLD, Australia.

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